Cristel Amiss of Black Women’s Rape Action Project: ‘It’s harder for women to get asylum cases recognised

Addressing how the specific persecution women face is not explicitly addressed under the UN Convention on Refugees and that makes it even harder for women to get asylum cases recognised, as reported in The Voice, July 2006.

Sara peered at them through the slit of her eyes. There were many, big men, vexed and merciless. Her husband, was bound in a corner, staring into blankness, their eyes met. Nothing transpired as she was mounted by the first man. He tore into her, she bore the pain in defiance. The second man came, the pain ripped through her abdomen and slammed into her head. She remained conscious throughout the ordeal – at least up to the point where the third man mounted her. There were many others after him, but her mind soon reached its threshold and she passed out.

A victim of the Congo’s brutal tribal war, her experience was common to the women of her village. Her husband and children were taken away and she was left for dead. She has not heard from them since.

Luckily, she found a way to escape the country and headed for England. This was 2002 and she applied for asylum shortly after arriving. Her claim was denied because under British law, rape is not considered suitable grounds for asylum.

She told The Voice: “My claim was refused by the Home Office. I explained to the adjudicator what had happened to me and I thought that being a lady she would understand. I had the evidence and everything. She refused my claim saying that I could return to my country without being at risk.”

Sara’s case is just one example of the injustice served upon thousands of female rape victims who seek asylum in this country.

A group of women with similar experiences gathered recently to highlight the issues they face dealing with asylum and immigration matters. Their major difficulty is receiving recognition and protection from the Home Office. The conference was hosted by Women Against Rape (WAR), Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) and the All African Women’s Group.


Anne Neale of Women Against Rape said: “We have been aiming to address this because the specific persecution these women face is not explicitly addressed under the UN Convention on Refugees and that makes it even harder for women to get asylum cases recognised”.

Cristel Amiss of Black Women’s Rape Action Project said: “Campaigning is crucial because we are able to circulate information that would otherwise be non-existent.” Also contributing to the debate were Dr Frank Arnold of the Medical Justice Network, Barrister Louise Hooper and three African rape victims.

It is estimated that up to 50 per cent of women seeking asylum in the UK are rape survivors. These women, a majority of them from African countries, are arbitrarily denied asylum by the Home Office and are being deported back to their countries to endure more abuse, torture and in many cases, death.

Ruth, 29, also arrived in England in 2002 after escaping from a Ugandan prison where she had been charged with rebelling against the government. She was repeatedly raped by prison inmates and prison guards and lost the baby she was carrying as a result of brutal torture. “I was burnt with cigarettes, I was cut with razors, I was raped, I was beaten with batons.” Despite the physical evidence on her body the Home Office refused her claim for asylum on the grounds that her ordeal can’t be considered as torture as it didn’t happen on a daily basis. Ruth said: “If that went on for a whole year I don’t think that I would be here in front of you today”. She now faces deportation.

She said: “I don’t know what the future holds for me. The Home Office treats us like numbers. We are client numbers, not people. It’s a very bad feeling not knowing what’s going to happen.”

A staggering 70 per cent of asylum seekers detained in Yarl’s Wood detention centre are rape victims and because only five per cent of women have evidence of their abuse, a mere 10 per cent obtain basic legal representation. A majority of those seeking asylum are placed with middle-class solicitors and adjudicators who do not understand their culture or their language and are therefore forced to listen to accounts via interpreters who are sometimes inaccurate in translation.

Anne Neale said: “I don’t know any woman I’ve interviewed that has had her form read back to her in translation. They’re read back to them in English so you have no idea of what’s being written and that very first interview is so crucial. It is vital that correct information is documented as any mistake is liable to crop up time and time again during the process from the Home Office right the way through to the adjudication level.”

Barrister Louise Hooper noted: “The difference in success rate if you have a good solicitor as opposed to a bad solicitor is absolutely phenomenal. There remains a massive gender divide in the way that the courts are willing to consider persecutory acts because you’re faced generally with a male panel of judges and it all goes one way.”


Anti-rape groups have launched a nationwide campaign in a bid to get rape officially recognised as torture and persecution and therefore grounds of asylum. The All African Women’s group have taken their petition into local schools in a bid to educate people from a young age. Nora of AAWG said: “Each year we go to schools and speak about the reasons why we are forced to leave our countries and what we are going through in this country. These children have come to realise the truth. When they see with their eyes it is not the same as the lies they hear.”

Cristel Amiss added: “It is very clear just how urgent it is to be campaigning that rape survivors claiming asylum have the protection and justice that they’re entitled to. Nobody can deny that rape is being used as a key weapon of war with women and children the most vulnerable and the least protected. It is crucial that those of us who have papers, who have the right to be here, who were born here, are not divided from those who don’t.”